The end of my Zazzle experiment

My experiment with Zazzle has come to an end. It seemed like a good idea, but it hasn’t really worked. The principle is sensible. I upload a picture, and “place it” on one of their products, and then the article is ready to be purchased by anyone using their shop. They print to order, and despatch it straight to the customer. When they sell one, I get a commission. But there are various problems:
  • They are based in the US, so postage costs are high, and shipping times are long.
  • Their selling prices are a tad on the high side, unless you have a voucher code. My plan was to keep an eye out for these codes, and tweet about them. Somehow, I never seemed to manage that. I often don’t notice the email telling me about an offer before it expires.
  • They recommend that you post products on social media at least twice a day. So I gave it a go. My twitter following had been steady for a long time, but since I started tweeting about Zazzle,  the total has gone down by about 80.
So I’ve done a bit of research, and found Two Fifteen, a company based in Blackpool. It is broadly similar, except I list the products on my Etsy shop, and when someone orders one of those items, Two Fifteen print it and despatch it. The end result is much lower prices and faster shipping. I tried using the same photographs for these new products, but the new system warned me that some were not of a high enough quality for printing in the relevant size. Which suggests that the quality of the product should be better. Just one gripe so far. Etsy has space for up to 10 pictures per listing, but this system only provides one mock up of high quality. For some products there are alternative views, but only lower quality pictures can be uploaded to Etsy. Which is a bit ironic, isn’t it?
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New tapestry bobbins in action


Weaving tapestry tends to mean that you have several colours on the go at once.

Which means a choice between lots of loose ends, and winding the thread onto some form of small piece of card, or another type of bobbin.

I can’t get on with cardboard bobbins. They get battered too quickly, and collapse on me at inconvenient moments. Wooden ones sound much more appealing.

The traditional shape of a tapestry bobbin has a shaft to hold the thread, a knob to keep it there, and a pointed end to help with threading it through the warp. And of course the pointed end can be used for beating the weft down into place.

Polished wood is nice to hold, and slides well through the weft, but it can be difficult to find. There are some beautiful ones available, made of exotic woods. The first few I bought were very plain ordinary wood. Although they were nicely turned, the finishing wasn’t quite as good as it could have been. There are slightly rough patches that catch on the warp.

So when I decided I needed more bobbins, I thought I would investigate the nicer ones. As you might expect, they are not that easy to find. You can’t just wander into the local craft shop and pick some up. These came from Australia, as you can probably guess from the names of the woods, like Bungeroo, Tasmanian Myrtle, Hairy Wattle, and Rose Sheoak.

I’ll be buying more of these from my fellow Etsy seller, WoodenTreen, where you can also buy all sorts of other beautiful craft tools.

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Watercolour experiments

From time to time, I read about new ways of using art materials. There have been a few suggestions about using watercolour paint on textiles. Now I am a big fan of watercolour. I love the way the colours merge and flow on the paper, so I thought it was worth running a few tests. It could be useful for the background of pictures.

I have also been reading that Inktense coloured pencils are good on textiles. Inktense can be used like normal coloured pencils, but when you run a damp paint brush over it turns into brightly coloured ink on the page.

So here we go with some scraps of unbleached calico.

I decided to test a range of colours with different characteristics:

  • Cerulean blue is an opaque colour (bottom left).
  • Ultramarine blue is a transparent colour (bottom right).
  • Prussian blue is renowned for its staining quality. If you want a stormy sky and plan to lift out paint to make the clouds, choose another blue (top left).
  • Then I added in rose madder, just because it is one of my favourite transparent colours (top right). It was sone of Turner’s favourites, so it must be good.

The first test was to paint on dry fabric. I was quite surprised how little the brush strokes spread on this surface. The edges are relatively straight.

The next step was to paint on damp fabric. The paint I used was the same strength. As you can see:

  • The edges are softer.
  • The colours are paler. This is particularly interesting, as I added some stronger colour on part of each patch to see if it made a difference. It didn’t. It just spread out. As you can see, there is no shading, or th blooking that sometimes happens on paper when you add to paint that is drying.
  • Where the patches meet, they have not flowed into eachother to mix into another colour.

Once the sample was dry, it looked like this. Not quite what I was expecting, but still plenty of potential for textiles.

I decided to move on to the next wave of experiments before worrying about fastness.

So I moved on to my Inktense pencils. You can get these colours in sticks, but I reckon I’m better off with the protection of some wood round my colour, so I’ve gone for the pencil version.

As far as I know, all the colours in the range have the same characteristics, so I just picked two colours at random.

For this experiment, I just scribbled a couple of patches of colour with each pencil. For each colour, the top picture shows the original pencil, and the lower one shows what happens when it is brushed with water.

Which suggest this might be a useful technique.

Apart from testing for water fastness, that was as far as the original plan went.

But then I remembered reading that Aloe Vera gel works well instead of water when working on textiles. Apparently it improves the flow of the colour on the fabric.

So I rubbed a little gel on the untreated sample of each colour. In the second picture, you can see:

  • a line of the original pencil,
  • then the sample of each colour rubbed over with a little gel,
  • then the sample of each colour painted with water.

Interestingly, the colour shows more on the back of the sample where the gel has been used than the water.

I was surprised, because there is also more colour on the front. Again, I can see applications for both these pencil techniques, varying the flow of the pigment by using water or gel. I suspect you can vary the spread by diluting the gel.

So then there is the final question. Are these colours wash fast? I put my samples on a piece of absorbant paper, sprayed it thouroughly with water, and left it. The idea is that if a colour is not wash fast, it will bleed out onto the paper below it.

I had planned to take a picture of the  paper underneath, to show the colour that had bled from the samples. But when I came to look, there was a very slight trace of the cerulean blue on the paper, but not so much that it would come out noticably on a photograph.

So my conclusion is that watercolour and inktense pencil are useful for artwork on textiles, but not worth the risk on an item of clothing. There is too much risk that, for example, the scarf created with this technique would mark your best white blouse.

The different effects cause by water and Aloe Vera gel are definitely worth thinking about.

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Making thread from nettles

What can you do with nettles?

Well, you can leave them for the butterflies. The easiest option.

Or you can make nettle tea, by leaving them to fester in water for a few weeks, then diluting the result to feed your plants.

Or then there is nettle soup. Which I have never got round to doing. However, I suspect it is more likely than using them to make thread.

I enjoyed watching this video about the process of turning fresh nettles into cloth.

But I am pretty sure I will never get round to it myself. Too many other games on the list ahead of that plan, I’m afraid.

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Amazing landscape rugs

When I was little, I had a square of lino, printed with a town map.  It kept us occupied for hours, driving dinky cars down the streets, and making up all sorts of stories about what was going on in that town. Then we could roll it up, and prop it up in the corner, out of the way, until next time.

These landscape rugs are in a totally different league. I can’t see that I’d want to be rolling them up, although you would need a very special place to display some of them. Get a whole new perspective on the Argentinian landscape!

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Recycled looms

Now, I know you can make looms out of all sorts of things. The big, serious ones cost loads of money, but on a smaller scale, there is a lot of scope for using your initiative.

There are instructions online for using old picture frames, or sturdy cardboard tubes from the middle of fabric bales.

But this post about using parts from electrical gadgets must take the prize. I love the idea of using a telephone receiver for a heddle!

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Tapestry commissioned by Henry VIII found

I’m sure I’m not the only one who opens things up in a new tab, because it might be interesting, and I haven’t got time to look at it now.

And every now and then, I find my browser has loads of tabs open, because I need to click on the links in the books I work on to check they go to the right place, and I don’t always bother to close the tab straight away.

This morning, I was closing down some clutter when I found this article about a rediscovered tapestry, part of a collectiion depicting the life of St Paul.

I have no idea where I picked the link up from, but I just thought I’d share.

And there is also a nice little video about the Bayeux tapestry into the bargain.

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My peacock fire screen

It isn’t unusual for ideas to come together to form a plan, but I don’t remember the inspiration for a project coming from two ideas found on the same trip.

A couple of summers ago, I went on a trip to Scampston Hall, between Malton and Scarborough. They had an embroidery exhibition of work inspired by the local landscape. There were a couple of group projects, where a picture of a suitable size had been divided up into squares, each of which had been embroidered by a different person, using whatever technique seemed appropriate. The result was a series of very different embroideries, with a variety of colours and textures, but they all worked together as parts of the picture.

On the way home, we stopped at the Stained Glass Centre near Filey for a cup of tea. In front of the tea room window was a rather splendid peacock fire screen. Now I need a fire screen. The one my Mum made when she was a teenager died a few years ago, about 30 years after Dad said the leg wouldn’t last long and couldn’t be mended again. But a stained glass screen is going to look best in front of a window, so the light can shine through.

Both these ideas were burbling round my head. Then one day I found an old book about making felt toys. It had a pattern for a peacock. A quick rummage in the stash produced some hessian that was about the right side, and some suitable colour felt. I enlarged the pattern to fit on the hessian, and made a start.

The ideas for the feathers are a little more challenging. Several ideas just haven’t worked, but here are the ones that are finished or nearly finished so far.

I reckon I am almost half way there…

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Elephants quilt

I’ve had this idea brewing for several years now. Grey patchwork elephants on a red background. There has been a bit of a delay, while I collect fabrics. I don’t really do grey, apart from flannel skirts, and somehow my stash is more russet than red.

And then there is the design. After a bit of experimenting, I’ve drawn out three sizes of elephant on squared paper, so I thought I would have a go. Here are the first three elephants.

Those of you who are into this sort of thing will notice a bit of a wobble in a couple of places. After many years of using the side of the presser foot to make even, equal size seams for patchwork, I now have a proper patchwork foot. It has a mark along the front every 1/8″. All I have to do is line the edge of the fabric with the second tick along, and I have an accurate 1/4″ seam. Marvellous!

The problem is that I’m not used to it yet. The gap at the front of the foot is somehow putting me off. I’m seeing 1/8 inch gap in the foot, plus another 1/8 ” on the foot. I start using the correct marking, but suddenly I’ve only got a 1/8″ seam. So in these blocks, I have most seams at the proper 1/4″, some at 1/8″, and some start at 1/4″ and then wobble over to 1/8″. And I only realised how much I’d varied when I put it all together. So some of the seams need redoing, but for the current purpose of seeing if the blocks work, they will do.

The size of this quilt is dictated by a rather splendid piece of machine patchwork in shades of gold that I have had in my stash for a while. As I have three sizes of elephant, it makes sense to have them walking across the quilt in a line. To balance things up, I’m alternating between processions to the left and the right. Each line needs something solid to walk on. It would be easy for those pathways to form boxes, which I don’t really want. So I thought I’d fill in the background with some traditional blocks and borders. Which is another variable to play with. Here is the current version of plan. Three cheers for pencil, I say!

I was telling my friend about this idea, and she asked whether the elephants are African or Indian. As the size of the ear is governed by how much shaping can be made in a square grid, I’m not really sure whether you can be fussy about this distinction.

But that lead to the fascinating idea of having Indian and African fabrics to make the distinction. I thought this would be quite straight forward, but my trip round the Festival of Quilts and some surfing suggests that this isn’t going to work. There was a whole stall of African prints, but they were all too colourful to be used in a grey elephant. And traditional Indian style designs like paisleys seem to be out of fashion at the moment.

Still, by the time I’ve got this idea finalised, they may be back in fashion again…

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Making patterns with salt

This technique with salt is an idea from watercolour painting. It is often described in books with dire warnings against using it too often.

And I can see why: it is addictive.

When you add salt to wet paint, the crystals absorb the moisture and make a pattern.  The result depends on so many variables that you can’t control the process. Relevant factors include:

  • The size of the salt crystals.
  • The amount of pigment in the paint.
  • The amount of moisture in the paint.
  • Any moisture or colour in the salt from previous uses.
  • How long the paint has been on the fabric, because if any of the paint has dried, the salt won’t have any effect. So the atmospheric conditions are also relevant.
  • Where the salt falls.

Salt after it has been used for this technique

As the salt takes up the moisture, some of the colour is sucked out, leaving the background fabric showing through. In other places the colour of the paint is intensified. Each crystal marks its own place on the surface to form the pattern.

With these scarves, I marked some shapes on the silk in batik wax, so that the flow of colours was limited. Then I painted blends of a couple of different silk paints, letting them mix on the fabric, before adding the salt.

It is important to leave the salt on until it is properly dry, or the patterns will smudge. I try to leave it for at least 24 hours, just in case. Once the salt comes off, the scarves need to be pressed between absorbent paper to remove the wax lines and fix the colour.

Here are some pictures of the process for three different colour ways.

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